A banner reading "Say No To Antisemitism" is unfurled at midfield before Chelsea F.C.'s match on January 31, 2018, kicking off the club's campaign to fight antisemitism..
(photo credit: CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB)
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Week in, week out, millions of people of different ages and backgrounds flock to watch their idols and passionately support their team.
This gives the sport, the club and the players a lot of influence and the ability to make a difference off the pitch. Most professional soccer clubs in the UK channel this influence into positive causes, running Football-in-the-Community projects, often with disadvantaged children, people with disabilities or, in situations such as the Grenfell fire, with those affected by disasters.
These projects are usually very well received, undoubtedly a testament to the power of sport, and in particular football.
Similarly, when a club decides to take action and tackle a specific issue, this can have a great effect on increasing understanding, bringing about more tolerance and, ultimately, helping to eradicate the problem altogether.
At Chelsea we’ve decided one such issue is antisemitism.
Antisemitism has been on the rise around the world for some time now, and the situation in the UK is no different. In 2017, The Community Security Trust, a British charity that protects Jewish people, reported a record number of antisemitic incidents, almost 100 per month.
In soccer there has long been a prevalence of anti-Jewish chanting, mainly, but not entirely, in response to Tottenham Hotspur identifying as a Jewish club, where rival fans have invoked everything from Jewish stereotypes to the Holocaust. Antisemitism also reared its head at Chelsea earlier this season when some fans adopted a chant about our striker Álvaro Morata, which included offensive content.
It is in this context, and with the full support of the club’s owner Roman Abramovich, that we recently launched a new initiative to raise awareness of and tackle antisemitism in all its forms.
Together with partners from The World Jewish Congress, The Community Security Trust, The Holocaust Educational Trust, Kick It Out and others, we want to start a process that will make a real difference.
And where better to begin than with the first team players themselves?
They recently met Holocaust survivor Harry Spiro, who came to our training ground at Cobham and spoke about his experience. It was an amazing session that clearly made a deep and lasting impression on all the players.
That was just one in a number of initiatives this campaign will be running.
The club’s charity foundation will extend its Equality and Diversity Workshops in schools to talk specifically about Jewish faith and culture, and we will develop an education program for supporters suspended for antisemitic behavior.
Additional activities taking place throughout this year will include educational visits to former concentration camps for staff, fans and stewards, an exhibition at the Chelsea Museum on soccer and the Jewish community, and screenings of Liga Terezin – a documentary about a soccer league run from a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
At Chelsea we hope that our initiative will start a process that we believe is vital and long overdue. However, we understand that change does not happen overnight, it takes time, education and understanding, and therefore we have devised the initiative as a long-term project that will grow and build, and hopefully inspire other clubs to follow our lead and create their own antisemitism initiatives, as well as working together with us on joint campaigns and activities.
Ultimately, people watch soccer for enjoyment and clubs have a responsibility to ensure nothing detracts from that. Our aim is to welcome everyone to Chelsea and provide a spectacle for them that is free of any discrimination or abuse. The only thing we can’t guarantee is that they’ll come away elated every week having seen their team win, though believe me, that is something else that we are working on.The author is Chelsea FC chairman, and heads Chelsea’s global antisemitism campaign.